Despite the obvious suggestion that the hotel sleep experience should be the most important aspect of any stay, it's surprising that more hotels don't pay more attention to their beds.
The hotel room bed is perhaps the one great unknown. No hyperbolic advertisement or glossy brochure, or even travel column, can adequately guarantee you a great bed at a hotel.
But certain things are known. Many hotels still order institutional-quality beds for guest rooms. And in some cases the quality of the beds is marginal. Some hotel beds contain the same spring units that the United States uses in government hospital beds. Or worse.
However, not everyone is an institutional-quality guest. At the Sheraton Plaza in Chicago a frequent guest (a former NBA star) performs a regular bedtime ritual: He pulls up two armchairs, drops the standard mattress, and stuffs four to six extra pillows between the headboard and the mattress to accommodate his 6-foot-8-inch height.
Anticipate the Worst
In this case the hotel can be excused. But what about everyone else?
Many hotel guests anticipate the worst--they ask for a bed board when they check in.
Perhaps you've found that some hotel beds are so uncomfortable that you're forced to round up extra pillows to try to compensate for an unforgiving mattress.
There are exceptions. Not every expensive hotel has great beds, and not every budget hotel bed will send you to an orthopedic surgeon.
For example, the upscale Dorchester Hotel in London could use some better beds. But the budget chain of Six Pence Inns uses high-quality beds.
So do all the Fairmont hotels. The Fairmont group orders its beds from the Serta Co.,, and the "Perfect Sleeper" mattresses and springs are manufactured to the hotel's specifications.
The custom mattresses are oversize, with strong wooden frames and reinforced cross-slats. Each mattress is built with extra surface density in the center for resilience and support.
"We also pay particular attention to the bedding," says Howard Connor, general manager of the Fairmont in Denver. "You won't find polyester anywhere in the hotel," he says. The sheets at the Fairmont are 200-count percale.
But the most popular bedding item at the Fairmont continues to be the pillow. All of the Fairmonts feature 100% goose-down pillows. "The guests like them so much," says Connor, "that they ask to buy them." The hotel sells them to guests at its cost: $90 per pillow.
Made to Order
The Hotel Bel-Air also features goose-down pillows on its canopied king-size beds. Each bedspread is made to order. Perhaps the best thing about the Bel-Air beds is that the hotel uses 100% Belgian cotton sheets, each ironed daily.
At the Alexis hotel in Seattle, management gets requests from guests to buy the down comforters the hotel puts on each bed. The hotel sells the 90x94-inch comforters for $250.
Some large convention hotels seem to concentrate less on their beds. Many hotels in Las Vegas, for example, seem more concerned with getting you out of your room and down to the casino. And by the time many guests do return to their rooms, they don't care about the quality of the bed. They're simply content with the knowledge that a bed, any bed, awaits them.
The same philosophy seems to hold at some resort areas where the emphasis is on outdoor activities. For example, after a hard day of horseback riding, tennis or golf at the Alisal Ranch near Solvang, guests hit the sack in a comfortable but only standard quality bed made by the Airloom Bedding Co. of El Monte.
That's not the case at the Spindrift Inn on Cannery Row in Monterey. "We spend a lot of time thinking about our beds," says Betty Warren, general manager of the Spindrift.
The hotel prides itself on its king-size canopy down feather beds. Each $6,300 bed contains 119 yards of fabric and includes a duvet down comforter and fabric headboard.
"'The bed is the showpiece in the room," says Warren, "and the maids spend a lot of time preparing them for guests. In fact," she says, "each maid has her own style of fluffing. If we've learned anything in the two years since we've opened," she says, "it's that guests remember you for the bed."
Many bed-and-breakfast places have learned the same lesson, and pay particular attention to the first half of their names. "The first requirement we have of our beds is that they don't squeak," says innkeeper Marlene McAdam of the The Inn on Mount Ada, a small resort on Catalina Island. Beyond that, guests who pay between $140 and $320 a night for their rooms are assured not only of a quiet night's sleep but a comfortable one.
A Former Mansion
The inn, a former mansion once owned by the Wrigley family, spent about $1,200 each for six handcrafted beds, each specially reinforced and containing 336 springs.
"The beds have a 20-year warranty," says McAdam, "but we only expect to get seven to 10 years of commercial use out of each mattress."